Note to New Mexico: Be more like (gasp!) Texas

TIME FOR A TEXAS MAKEOVER: With New Mexico’s economy struggling, maybe it’s time for the Land of Enchantment to start imitating the economic model of the Lone Star State.

By Rob Nikolewski | New Mexico Watchdog

For a long, long time, people in New Mexico — and specifically, Santa Fe — have had a love-hate relationship with Texas.

Well, it can actually sometimes get a little short on the love and long on the hate.

But as much as it hurts to say it, when it comes to reviving New Mexico’s economy, the Land of Enchantment should take some lessons from the Lone Star State.

While New Mexico has been sputtering, Texas is on a roll.

More people have moved to Texas than any other state in the country: A net gain of more than 387,000 in the latest from the 2013 Census Bureau report.

In fact, five of the 20 fastest-growing large metro areas in the U.S. are in Texas — Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth — and smaller communities such as oil-rich Midland and Odessa grew at 3 percent or better.

“Sure, people move there for jobs, but they’re low quality jobs that don’t pay much,” critics say. But that’s not what the statistics show. Median household income in Texas has moved up nine places since 2000.

Democrats in New Mexico have been hammering Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on the state’s poor economic numbers. Fair enough. Like NFL quarterbacks, governors get too much credit when things are good, so they have to take the hits when they’re bad.

But for 62 years, Democrats have controlled the state House of Representatives and for 77 of the past 81 years, they’ve controlled the Senate.

If the New Mexico economic landscape is less than ideal — and it has been — the party running the Legislature for decades has to accept some responsibility for that.

Last week, the pro-growth Tax Foundation ranked U.S. states by tax climate. New Mexico finished 38th. Every other state in the Rocky Mountain region finished in the top half of the rankings.

Texas finished 10th and has made a concerted effort to avoid overregulation.

“The classic social contract is — we’re not going to do a ton to help you but we’re not going to get in your way,” author Erica Greider told the BBC last year. “That’s not 100 percent true of the state but there’s that strand in the state.”

The title of the book Grieder wrote? “Big, Hot, Cheap and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas.”

Texas also is one of the few states with no state income tax and it’s one of 24 states that has passed right-to-work legislation.

Last year, Albuquerque lawyer and longtime Democrat David Buchholtz broached the subject to me and offered a New Mexico compromise: Pass right-to-work legislation, but carve out an exception for public-sector employees.

“People I trust tell me up to 25 percent of companies looking to relocate will not put a state on their list that is not a right-to-work state,” he told me last September. “We desperately need to create private-sector jobs and if we’re missing 25 percent of the opportunities, that’s not a good thing for us.”

The idea received criticism from the left (predictably) and from the right (too watered down) but give Buchholtz credit for offering an idea to stimulate New Mexico’s economy.

Speaking of which, can you imagine how bad our numbers would be if it weren’t for the oil boom in southeastern New Mexico? The Oil Patch has almost singlehandedly kept us afloat.

And just as in North Dakota, crude production in Texas is exploding.

I’m not saying New Mexico should mimic every last thing that Texas has done (they can keep Jerry Jones) but it would be foolish to not take a hard look at what it’s done and apply some — or even a lot — of those lessons.

With our natural beauty, we’ll always be the Land of Enchantment. But let’s not be in a state of denial.

(This commentary originally ran in the Sunday edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican on Nov. 2, 2014.)

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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